Decades after a developer introduced the phrase "prestigious west Bloomington" to sell homes sprouting like corn from the farm fields of the Twin Cities' biggest suburb, the stereotype lives on.
You can find it on almost 10,000 websites, many of them marketing condos and apartments with capital-letter swank that makes "Prestigious West Bloomington" sound like its own city. It flares up in occasional letter-to-the-editor battles, and it was even the title of a now-removed YouTube video that showed a lounging college student eating dessert and wiping his mouth with three $100 bills. ("What a cake-eater!" one of his dorm friends exclaimed.)
City officials say any divide, most commonly physically defined by Interstate 35W, exists mostly in people's imaginations. Characterizing east Bloomington as Richfield and west Bloomington as Eden Prairie is an exaggeration, they say.
In fact, much of west Bloomington looks like the east half, with flat, straight blocks lined with post-World War II ramblers. The city's hillier western edge is the physical outlier, with big, costlier homes that were built on winding roads right into the 2000s.
But the myth of West Bloomington lives on. Bob Hawbaker, the city's director of planning and economic development, once got a call from a woman demanding to know where the West Bloomington City Hall was.
"She was just furious that I couldn't tell her," he said.
There are differences between the two halves of the city. Housing is older in the east. More minority and immigrant families live there. But Hawbaker said housing prices are not very different from east to west if the structures are similar.
While some websites warn against living on the east side because of crime, police department statistics from the last 90 days of 2009 show that when the Mall of America is removed from the equation, crime rates in the two halves are not very different.
One historical sore point for people who live east of 35W was addressed recently: The lack of representation on the Bloomington school board. State Rep. Ann Lenczewski, a DFLer whose district spans both halves of the city, was so aggrieved by the lack of east representation that in 2008 she sponsored a bill that would have guaranteed some regional balance by electing four of the seven school board members from wards. The bill was vetoed.
But as of this coming week, east Bloomington will have a representative on the school board. The top vote-getter in last fall's board election was east resident Melissa Halvorson Wiklund.
Wiklund, who will be sworn in Monday, downplays the significance of her election.
"My experience living in east Bloomington is one quality I bring to the board, but it is not a defining quality," she said. "I want to communicate with all Bloomington residents."
Balanced representation on the City Council was guaranteed in 1976, when council membership shifted from all at-large seats to having two at-large and four ward seats. Vern Wilcox has held the Ward 4 seat -- the only one entirely in the eastern half of the city -- for 17 years.
Now 63, he moved to east Bloomington from Minneapolis in 1958, a city kid unhappy with what he considered a move to the sticks. His new home on 12th Avenue South looked much like other ramblers on the block. It was so similar that Wilcox claims his father once saw Wilcox's sister sitting on the front step of a house, pulled his car into the driveway, walked into the house and pulled a beer from the fridge.
"My sister said, 'Shouldn't you go home to do that, Dad?'" Wilcox said. She was baby-sitting for a neighbor.
Wilcox lives about a block from where he grew up, in a 1953 rambler that was assembled as a 24x48-foot house in an aircraft hangar, trucked out to the site and dropped over a crawl space. The basement and garage were added later.
Though Wilcox is an admitted chauvinist about the east side, he said he thinks the city has been even-handed in its policies. His part of the city, where most of the foreclosures have occurred, has been the beneficiary of a city program offering loans to people who buy and fix up foreclosed properties.
"The council is cognizant of the fact that if we let east Bloomington go to hell, it will spread to west Bloomington, too," he said.
Home, sweet home
People identify so strongly with east Bloomington that it is not uncommon for people who grew up there to buy homes near where they grew up.
Two years ago, siblings Christina and Harold Braucks bought the house they grew up in.
"It was our parents' wish that after they passed away one of us lived in the house," Christina Braucks, 43, said. "It made sense. ... It's a good neighborhood. The houses are in decent shape, and the properties are huge. You can't go wrong." Her lot is about a third of an acre.
Alice Winker, 48, is one of 2,410 members of the Facebook page "You know you're from East Bloomington when..." Many of the posts there are fond recollections of long-gone businesses like the Studio 97 theater or rituals like getting a haircut at the old Holiday Store.
Winker, who has two children, said she grew up playing in the woods behind her house. She could walk to Met Stadium and hear the baseball play-by-play from the neighborhood.
"I loved growing up here," she said. "We bought a house in the same neighborhood. I didn't know I was going to stay here that long. We like having the grandparents right down the street."
Lenczewski thinks families like the Winkers may be more typical of the east side than the stereotype of elders sticking it out in their ramblers. Houses there are drawing young families, she said, a transition that hasn't yet occurred to the west.
Indeed, Wilcox thinks the future is with east Bloomington. Not only does his neighborhood have the Mall of America, it's the home of Airport South, the area near the mall where officials say the majority of future development in the city will occur.
"There's going to be a day when it's going to be 'prestigious east Bloomington,'" Wilcox said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380